ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando City will take on the Columbus Crew at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time Saturday in Exploria Stadium with a bid for a spot in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference final on the line.

What You Need To Know

  • Orlando City and Columbus will meet up in the MLS Eastern Conference semifinal

  • The match is at 5:30 p.m. EST Saturday in Exploria Stadium

  • The winner will advance to the Eastern Conference final

  • The teams played to a draw in one regular-season game, and the Lions won the second matchup

The playoff matches so far have been best-of-three series, but starting in this round, the competition will begin a single-elimination format, with the winner of the match advancing to the Eastern Conference Final. 

The games between the teams this season have been evenly matched. They played to a 2-2 draw in May in Columbus (16-9-9, third in the Eastern Conference during the regular season), and Orlando City (18-7-9, second in the conference in the regular season) edged Columbus 4-3 in September, so the match could come down to which team does a better job of shaking off the rust of a long layoff. Orlando City has not played for 18 days. It defeated Nashville SC 1-0 on Nov. 7. Columbus has had a shorter layoff, defeating Atlanta United 4-2 on Nov. 12. 

The long layoff was partially because there were so many sweeps in the first round and also due to the November FIFA international window. The Lions had five first-teamers away on international duty: Pedro Gallese and Wilder Cartagena for Peru, Facundo Torres for Uruguay, Wilfredo Rivera for Puerto Rico, and Abdi Salim for Somalia.

Defender Robin Jansson said the players are trying to make the best of the situation.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s optimal this late in the season to have that long break in an important time of the season like this,…” Jansson said. “We had some days off, and then we get together again and (are) starting to prepare for this game….We’re going to be ready Saturday.”

Coach Oscar Pareja said the break was good for the players physically.

“We have been working,” Pareja said. “After our game against Nashville [SC], we had a couple of days off to refresh after our efforts there and the emotions the game brought us. We have kept a good pace and have worked on some details toward what is coming with Columbus. We are waiting for some players that are out on national team duty, but we are ready. This week, we have been a bit more intense in our preparations. The boys are good and healthy.” 

The Lions have won 15 consecutive home matches and are on a 271-minute shutout streak dating to the final minutes against the New England Revolution on Oct. 7.

“We know that they are a good team,” Jansson said. “They like to play with the ball since they got the new coach. And they’re good at it. They have some good players and a great team. So we have to be aware of their qualities and then just going back to do the things that we are doing.”

The Lions have reached the Eastern Conference semifinals one other time, in 2020, but they fell to the New England Revolution.

Tickets for The Wall are sold out, but they remain available in other sections, including limited seating in the lower bowl. They can be purchased online.

“We hope we’re going to continue to get it (the support they have received from the fans), Jansson said.